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I’m a food safety expert — I always avoid these 4 items at the grocery store

foods to avoid food safety experts
foods to avoid food safety experts

What is a food safety inspector? Think Gordon Ramsay, except when they walk out of yet another horrifyingly filthy walk-in cooler, they don’t get to scream at everyone in the kitchen for ratings.

Working tirelessly and mostly outside of the spotlight from coast to coast, these guardians of America’s food supply are tasked with enforcing FDA guidelines, following what we eat and drink throughout every step of the production and procurement process, from the source to the supermarket.

And when something goes wrong — when foods are recalled, avoiding potential calamity — you can thank a food safety inspector for being on the ball.

They worry, basically, so we don’t have to.

Which raises the question — let’s say one of these knowledgeable folks is at the grocery store, on their off day. What are they buying? Or, rather, what are they not buying, to avoid unnecessary risk?

A handful of pros allowed a HuffPost reporter to take a proverbial peek in their shopping carts. Here’s what was noticeably missing.

Raw milk — a big nope

Don’t do it in the raw. Milk, that is. SimonSkafar
Don’t do it in the raw. Milk, that is. SimonSkafar

Unpasteurized milk is painfully trendy in some quarters — trouble is, pasteurization has been the gold standard for a long time for a reason, because drinking raw milk carries real risks of ingesting a host of bad-for-you germs. Which is why it’s illegal in many states.

For the pros, it’s just a big no.

“Although it is possible to purchase raw, unpasteurized milk in some states, I recommend people not consume it,” said Kali Kniel, a microbiologist at the University of Delaware.

Kniel told HuffPost that one of the reasons to avoid raw milk is that you won’t know when it’s contaminated — there’s no way to conduct a smell test, for example. It’s just too big a gamble, basically.

“There are a lot of people who tout [raw] milk as having all these health benefits, but it’s just not worth the risk because there are a lot of pathogenic organisms that are still alive in that milk, especially if it’s coming straight from a processing facility,” Dr. Bryan Quoc Le, a Washington-based food chemist and industry consultant told the outlet.

Say no to sprouts

Not today, Satan! Nataliya Kushnir
Not today, Satan! Nataliya Kushnir

Sorry kids, we don’t mean Brussels sprouts, you’re not getting off that easy — rather raw sprouts, the kind that appeared on every veggie sandwich back in the day. They seem like they’re going to be good for you, but they can also be be full of E-coli and salmonella, something more often associated with yucky-grade meat or poultry.

“In order for sprouts to germinate, the seeds cannot be adequately disinfected to kill all the salmonella that could be there, for example,” Kniel said. “But, in saying this, let’s keep in mind that there are sprouts growers who are doing a great job and pay close attention to cleaning and sanitation.”

“There seem to be more foodborne issues with sprouts and I think that is because of the desire not to use chemicals because of the type of consumers who like to buy them,” Le said. “The probability of contamination is not so high, it’s more of a moderate risk, but I personally would avoid them.”

Prepared fresh in store = nope

Wait until you hear what they have to say about melons. rustycanuck
Wait until you hear what they have to say about melons. rustycanuck

“If you’re going to eat pre-cut produce raw, you are dealing with the same amount of microbial risk as you would with sprouts,” Le pointed out.

“That’s because I don’t know what the person behind the counter has done while cutting the produce and what practices they implement. Packaged food, by law, has to go through a stringent process but food that has been produced on-site doesn’t necessarily.”

The worst offender? Cut melons, Kniel said. Because they spend so much time lying on the ground, they can soak up infected water thanks to their porous rinds, or even take on animal feces — if not meticulously cleaned, that’s a problem for you.

If you do buy pre-cut veg or fruit, rinse it off to be safe, the experts urge — keep in the fridge, use it fast, and maybe even consider cooking what you buy instead of consuming it raw.

Hot food bars are a flaming hot no

Hot food bars at supermarkets are a big nope for those who know how tricky it can be to keep so many different foods at just the right temperature. zoranm
Hot food bars at supermarkets are a big nope for those who know how tricky it can be to keep so many different foods at just the right temperature. zoranm

When checking out a supermarket hot food bar, the experts say they’re not looking at what’s on offer, they’re looking to see if the store is managing the temperature correctly.

And those correct temperatures are: 135 Fahrenheit or above for hot food, and 41 Fahrenheit or below for cold. Outside of that, you’ve got bacteria problems. Teach yourself to look for the often digital readout somewhere on the bar setup before you even look at the food, if you want to be really cautious.

“If the heating system is questionable, I would avoid the hot food bar,” Le warned. “But if it is kept above the proper temperature then you are OK eating it because it can’t be contaminated.”

Also see how safe things are from a sharing perspective.

“I look to see that the sneeze guard is in place and clean and that tongs are clean and available,” she said. “I want to see that the tongs are being handled carefully by my fellow consumers.”

And finally, consider how long that food has been sitting there. Peak hours may be safer than odd times of the day, when food is just sitting there for long periods of time at potentially unsafe temperatures.